The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2016 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine (a sum of USD 200,000) to Steve Jackson, Professor of Biology at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom).
DNA repair: the Achilles’ heel of cancer cells
Steve Jackson will receive the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine for his fundamental research into DNA repair in human cells and for the successful application of knowledge of that process in the development of new cancer drugs.
DNA molecules in our cells are continuously being damaged. Healthy cells can signal such damage and trigger various repair mechanisms, such as a mechanism that reconnects broken DNA strands.
Jackson investigated how cells know what type of repair is needed and what signal is given to start the correct repair process. Moreover, he successfully applied that knowledge in medical research.
In cancer cells, one or more DNA repair methods are often defective. Consequently, they cannot be properly controlled. Jackson explores mechanisms of DNA repair and looks for new drugs that kill cancer cells by breaking down their recovery capacity even further. He exploits a concept called ‘synthetic lethality’. It is now clear that this concept has potential. In 2014, a new drug became available to treat a certain type of ovarian cancer. Clinical application trials for other cancer types are in progress.